The Mysterious Case of the Missing Stitches (or 'Everyone makes Mistakes')

You may recall that I cast on new project while waiting for 'Storm Katie' to arrive.  It's a good job I did as seven-hour a power cut meant there wasn't much to do but knit and this little project was fun... until I noticed a problem. Before putting them to soak in Eucalan (to get rid of the 'DPN ridge' you can see there) I took this quick snap, ready to show you my 'finished object': 


Do you see what I see? I'm sure you do, but I'm hoping that when they are dry and I wear them on our holiday this weekend, no one else will notice because I don't have the time to reknit one of them before we go. I might have enough yarn left to knit a third one so I will have a matching pair (nothing better than a 'pair and a spare' even if the spare is a little bit different!). 

I would blame knitting in the dark, but I can't. I made the first one in broad daylight before writing a chart, and then drew the chart and knitted from that for the second one, but obviously the chart and the first one didn't match - grrrrr! 

So I'll type up the pattern for a MATCHING pair, and will post it here when we get back. If you fancy making some which are the same, you'll need three different shades of Scheepjes Merino Soft* - I used one ball each of 613, 635 and 610. This is the same yarn which is in the 'Luxury Kit' for the Last Dance on the Beach crochet-along - you can find a review of the yarn here - so you could always use this as an excuse to fondle the yarn and try out a few different colours. If you have a preference for which should be the 'correct' one, please leave a comment! 

(PS. I'm trying to be zen about it, but really can't quite believe quite how stupid this was.)
*Affilliate/Sponsor info: Yarn for this project was supplied by Scheepjes, it can be purchased from Deramores and Wool Warehouse in the UK and from other international stockists. 

Yarn Review: Scheepjes Colour Crafter & Merino Soft

Since the reveal of the Last Dance on the Beach CAL (crochet-along), I've seen so many questions about the two 'official' yarns I felt a comparison post might be useful in helping you to decide which might suit you best. Both 'Colour Crafter' (CC) and 'Merino Soft' (MS) are relatively new yarns, and as the majority of my readers happen to be in the UK and USA, where there are not yet many stockists of this Dutch brand (see below), I realise you may not have had the opportunity to feel them in person. I've tried my best to capture the key points below, and have included plenty of photos too.

Please note these yarns are here for other projects* - they are not for the CAL and are not official CAL colours, but as they are in two similar shades it seemed a good opportunity to show you how the two yarns compare. *Yarn supplied by Scheepjes. All opinions are my own and completely honest. Affiliate links included. 
The Specifics:
Colour Crafter comes in 100g / 300m balls and is 100% Premium Acrylic. Merino Soft comes in 50g / 105m balls and is a blend of 50% Merino, 25% Micro and 25% Acrylic. So the MS is slightly thicker, although both are 'double knitting' yarns. For the CAL, different hook sizes are recommended (4mm and 4.5mm respectively), and there is some variation in the finished blanket size as a result. 


First Impressions: 
Colour Crafter is unlike any acrylic yarn I've used before - I usually find acrylics put my teeth on edge, but not this one which is 'squeak-free'. I first worked with it when making the samples for the CAL square I contributed, and found it surprisingly soft and easy to crochet. In fact, since that time, my mum started using it for all her knitted garments - she is vegan and says this is the nicest acrylic yarn she has tried, plus it washes beautifully (she also knits clothes for my family and even my laundry skills have kept them in good condition). 

The first thing I noticed about Merino Soft is that it's very soft and cosy - the clue is in the title, I guess. (This is the reason I've used it for my latest armwarmer design project which I've finished and will show you tomorrow!). The very fine merino fibres have been blended with fibres which add strength, allowing it to be quite lightly plied and very soft yet almost impossible for me to break off by hand (I tried, when I forgot my scissors). This yarn is very soft, bouncy and incredibly tactile. The payoff for this softness is that, as a relatively inexperienced crocheter,  I stuck my hook through it a few times when making my samples (see some splitting in the picture below) - but it was worth having to pay extra attention as it does feel so silky soft and has a lovely drape. Note that I'm much more experienced with two knitting needles, and didn't split it at all when knitting.

Colour Crafter (left) & Merino Soft (right)
Stitch Definition / Appearance: 
As you'd expect from very different fibre compositions, the stitch definition is different between the two yarns. Will this be very noticeable in a blanket? 'At a glance' I'm not sure whether the average person would notice - the 'sneak peek' and 'reveal' pictures for the CAL (both shown in my last post) actually include different versions of each colourway, but they looked so similar it was up to Scheepjes to tell them apart. If you could feel them it would be much easier. (I already mentioned the MS silky softness and drape, right?) Anyway, take a look at this little knit sample, and see what you think. I left my finger in for scale. 
Colour Crafter (bottom) & Merino Soft (top)
Care: 
Both yarns can be machine washed (use a colour catcher the first time you wash them when using light and dark colours together - this is included in the luxury kit for your convenience), but the CC can be washed at a higher temperature and can also be ironed (more useful for garments than a textured blanket). A cool tumble dry is possible with both yarns.

Being 50% natural fibre, MS is much more 'breathable' than a 100% acrylic yarn. Both can be wet-blocked, but the MS responds better, in my opinion. If you want to use one of them for a lacy shawl (or similar) which would be coaxed into shape, MS would definitely be my recommendation. For square blocks which have been designed specifically for these yarns, I don't feel this is as much of an issue as it may be with other projects. 


Other Notable Features:
- Colour Crafter is suitable for vegans and is also hypo-allergenic. With such a soft texture, it is great value for money.
- Despite how it would appear in these pictures (where the yarns happen to look very similar in colour) the MS colours used for Last Dance on the Beach are more muted than the Colour Crafter.
- If you haven't used Scheepjes yarns before, you may not fully appreciate this point, but if you have, it may be enough to make your decision for you: MS has an 'easy start' tab and the CC doesn't! My preference for working with centre-pull balls is already documented and the little tabs that come on premium Scheepjes yarns make my life easier so I have to mention this.  

 Risk 'yarn barf' with Colour Crafter, but Merino Soft has an 'easy start' centre-pull ball
There is no need to re-wind yarn into useable centre-pull balls (something I frequently do if the yarn comes in a ball instead of a skein), there isn't any 'yarn barf'/ prolapse from the centre of the ball - simply pull the tab out and the start of the yarn comes with it. Aside from preventing the ball rolling everywhere as you pull more yarn out (which drives me crazy!), this also means that you're always using 'relaxed' yarn from the centre of the ball. It makes the balls neater too, which is great when working with multiple colours. 


Summary: 
Both of these yarns have a lot going for them. Both will result in a beautiful finished item. If you can't afford the luxe kit (or don't use wool for whatever reason), your blanket will still be gorgeous when made with the CC yarn. On the other hand, you will be putting a lot of work into the project, and you will have a beautiful heirloom blanket to pass on. If you can afford the luxe kit you may well decide it's worth investing in the premium yarn, not to mention all the extra goodies which are included.

If you are really not sure which to get, you may like to try a ball of each before deciding on the kit - someone suggested this on the International CAL Facebook group and it seems like a great solution for anyone who is able to get quick delivery! Try Deramores and Wool Warehouse if you are in the UK - there are over 60 colours of CC (all named after places in the Netherlands) and 49 colours of MS (named for famous artists). In the US, Paradise Fibres have the yarns in their store or to order online. Readers elsewhere will find the full stockist list below.

Price / Ordering Info: 
The official yarn kits will be on sale from Friday 1st April, also at Wool WarehouseDeramores and other Scheepjes stockists. The 'Basic' Colour Crafter kit is priced at £33.99 / €43,40 and the Luxury Merino Soft kit, which includes a lot of other things besides the yarn (listed in the picture above) will be £119.99 / €159,90. The CAL starts on April 20th so you will need to make your decision soon. If you've already made a choice on yarn and the colourway, leave a comment and let us know which you're going for. 

Introducing a special project: Last Dance on the Beach

Last summer my friend 'Wink' (Marinke) was working on a new design for a CAL (crochet-along) in collaboration with Scheepjes - it was to follow on from the huge success of their 2014 CAL and had a working title of 'Dance on the Beach'. Tragically, Wink lost her battle with depression before the design was finished, leaving behind her notes, samples and mood-boards. After liaising closely with her family, Scheepjes decided to continue with the CAL in her memory. 


When we last met up, Wink and I had planned some blog and design projects to do together but her death meant that they weren't to be, so when I was asked to help complete this final project and to bring it to life with the other 'Scheepjes bloggers/designers' she had introduced me to, it felt like the chance to work on one last special project with her. I am honoured, and also rather emotional, to have been a part of this by contributing one of the squares. I will tell you more about that on the week it's released. As details have now been made public, I can finally tell you about it and show you the pictures... 


The CAL is free to join and starts on April 20th. It will last for fourteen weeks. Each individual square will be released in English and Dutch, in PDF format with full video support, on Wednesday afternoons, Dutch time. Scheepjes will be offering extra support for their customers in the form of International/ English language and Dutch groups on Facebook. The groups are already very busy with thousands of people joining in to honour Wink, I am sure she would be quite overwhelmed by the love and support people are showing.


So that as many people as possible can afford to take part with the official kits, each colourway will be available in two different double knit yarn options. The Basic Kit will be £33.99 / €43,40 and is made up of 14 balls of Colour Crafter Acrylic yarn (which is super soft and doesn't feel as inexpensive as the price tag might suggest!) and a special edition label.

The Luxe Kit comprises 39 balls of Merino Soft yarn (which as the name suggests,  is incredibly soft and squidgy), a special edition label and wooden button, Knitpro stitch markers, a luxury embroidery scissors, colour catcher and Eucalan wool wash, and is packaged with a luxury beach bag. This option will cost £119.99 / €159,90.


Both kits include a €2 charitable donation to Mind in Wink's name. If you would like to select your own colours or to use a different yarn (some people have asked about substituting cotton yarns or Stone Washed if they live in warmer countries) you can make a donation to Mind yourself, if you wish.

You can already find the project listed on the Ravelry database so you can add it to your queue / favourites. As soon as the kits are ready, I'll provide more information - for now I can tell you they will be available at Wool Warehouse and Deramores in the UK from 1st April, as well as from other Scheepjes international stockists. I heard from some of the group members that the UK stockists offer great shipping to more far flung participants in Australia, New Zealand etc but that early ordering is recommended.  You have about a week to choose your favourite... I still don't know which is mine - what do you think? 

The calm before the storm (a new project)

Rain is on the way, and as it's the last day of school for over two weeks I'm making the most of the final few hours of quiet - it literally and metaphorically feels like the calm before the storm.


At times like these, there is only one thing to do - cast on! It had to be something quick, fun, colourful and portable - over the holidays we have a few family day trips and a short break planned, and my other knitting projects are too big to take. (I'll also be flying off for some 'yarny' fun with lovely friends, but more on that another day.)

YARN: Scheepjes* Merino Soft in colours 613, 633 and 610 
I'm not sure where the colour inspiration came from. It may have been the tulips - vibrant pink with a hint of blue - some new nail varnish or a basket of 'spring' coloured yarn, but there's a definite theme on my desk. There's no pattern or plan, I'm improvising. I'll let you know how it turns out.

*Affiliate: Merino Soft is available at Wool WarehouseDeramores and various international stockists

Remember these bunnies? (Free knitting pattern)

A couple of years ago I designed a little bunny pattern for Love Knitting. It was downloadable from their blog over the Easter period (before they had an option for indie designers to upload their patterns on the main site) and then, to be honest, I pretty much forgot about it... until a couple of days ago when it popped up as a memory on my Facebook account. It seemed a shame for it to languish in the archives, so I've just added the PDF to my LoveKnitting Designer page where you can now download it for free. 

Edited to add: Lots of love for the rainbow too - you can find it here
The detailed pattern includes an easy-to-follow chart, two size options, and lots of pictures. It is quite easy to make from just one ball of double knitting or Aran weight yarn and you can customise the leg and arm length, as well as the bow placement to make it look more like a boy or a girl.

I changed the face after the other pictures were taken - I like this one more!
If you're better at sewing faces than I am, you can probably make your bunny look really cute - that's something I struggle with! The pattern can be downloaded here and if you make a bunny or two, please feel free tag me in your pictures - on most social media you can find me as @craftsfromthecwtch. Happy knitting! 
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PS. Find lots more Easter projects on Creativebug! 
You can start a free trial by clicking on this affiliate link

Review: Mollie Makes - 'How to Knit' and 'How to Crochet'


Projects from 'How to Crochet', photo credit: Rachel Whiting
Two new paperbacks recently landed on my desk for review* - they are 'How to Knit' and 'How to Crochet' from Mollie Makes. If you've been reading the magazine for any length of time, you will probably recognise many of these colourful projects which are presented here together, and have been previously published in hardback editions of the Mollie Makes books.  

    

Both books follow the same format, each with twenty different 'easy projects' in part one, and the second half of each book covering techniques. The crochet technique section includes information on hooks, yarns and other supplies, holding the hook and yarn, basic stitches and the other skills you will need to know to make the projects in the book. 'How to Knit' includes the equivalent information.

Hexagon Motif Blanket by Anita Mundt, photo credit Rachel Whiting
Despite the many pages of illustrated information, if the target audience are true beginners, I'm not sure quite how "easy" some of the patterns would be. For example, the cute bulldog puppy pattern by Louise Walker runs to four pages of written instruction, for a project that includes tucks and intarsia - it may not be the easiest pattern to begin with and I suspect might look daunting to a new knitter. Similarly, Cara Medus' lovely Russian Doll pattern - featured on the cover of the crochet book - may look complicated to those who are new to crochet. 

Felted Pot Trio by Carol Meldrum, photo credit: Holly Jolliffe
If you do have a little experience, perhaps you have completed a few projects and want to expand your skills, you should find plenty of options here. My favourite projects (pictured) give you a taste - the patterns produce colourful and attractive fripperies and come from well known knit and crochet designers. 

Kawaii Kittens by Louise Walker, photo credit: Holly Jolliffe
Overall, I'd say these are very nice collections if you like the Mollie Makes aesthetic and don't already have the back catalogue of hardback books. I believe they will especially appeal if you already have a bit of knitting / crochet experience. If you want to learn how to start either craft completely from scratch you may find some of the patterns a little overwhelming and my honest advice would be to start elsewhere to get to grips with the basics, before moving onto these.

The paperbacks are widely available now and at the time of writing, both 'How to Knit' and 'How to Crochet'  are priced under £10 each on Amazon, where they are also available for Kindle.

*This post includes a review of books I was sent free of charge in return for an honest review, and includes affiliate links.

How to use Scheepjes Blocking Board for knit or crochet motifs

There's a lot to be said for items made from motifs. Motifs make a project more portable, can be a great way to combine colours, and there's a sense of accomplishment every time one of the individual shapes is complete. Joining motifs together is much easier if they have been blocked but it can be frustrating and time consuming to pin out lots of small squares or triangles, (or whatever shape you're making) so that they are all the same size...until now. Scheepjes kindly sent me one of their new blocking boards (I prefer the Dutch name - "Grannyblokspanner") to try out, in return for my honest feedback. After playing around with it, here are my initial thoughts and some tips on how to use it. Affiliate links are included, images used with permission of Scheepjes.
Scheepjes Blocking Board for knit and crochet motifs reviewed on Crafts from the Cwtch
The quantity of motifs shown is for illustration purposes - see notes below
Each 30cm square wooden blocking board is a sturdy 2.54 cm thick and comes with a set of eight pins (extra sets of four can be purchased separately if you're blocking unusual shapes) which can be screwed into the board in a variety of configurations and sizes. 

THE PROs: 
Compared with using a foam blocking board and pins, this is much more reliable and easy to set up and as the steel pins have a smooth plastic coating, they won't snag your work in the way that T-pins can.

It's also possible to block multiple motifs simultaneously without needing a lot of space. The pins are incredibly strong and measure over 10cm each, so you can block multiple motifs without them bowing inwards at the top - in other words, the motifs will still be the same size when you remove them (lighter weight materials and pins that pull inwards at the top is a complaint I've heard about some other boards, and something that this brand specifically set out to address).

THE CONs: 
With a definitive number of pin slots, not all shapes can be blocked to all sizes. For a typical 'granny square' project this shouldn't be a big problem, but I'd recommend checking suitability for a specific project if the motifs aren't square.

This isn't a big deal for most projects, but if motifs are closely-worked from fine yarn, you may see a small opening in the fabric where the pin has been, after the motif is removed from the board. 

Scheepjes Grannyblokspanner blocking board reviewed on Crafts from the Cwtch blog
Photo Credit: Tatsiana 
HOW TO USE: 
STEP 1. Select the shape you wish to block your motifs, and screw the correct number of pins into the required formation (as per examples above).

STEP 2. Ensure the size is appropriate to 'open' the work out to the correct measurement / required visual effect - blocking is about opening the stitches out in a uniform way.

STEP 3. Soak a few motifs in your favourite wool wash, and gently squeeze out excess water using a towel (see my 'blocking basics' tutorial here if you haven't done this before) then place them onto the pins, leaving space between individual motifs. ** Don't put too many on the board at the same time, or they won't dry very quickly! **

STEP 4. Leave to thoroughly dry - resist the temptation to remove them any sooner!

STEP 5. When the motifs are dry, either remove them to block more, or you can store them on the pins until they are needed. If so, the dry motifs can be stacked closer together as in the first image above. 

For the right project, and especially if you make a lot of squares, this is an essential piece of kit.  If you are going to be joining in with the next Scheepjes CAL (more on that coming soon), or were tempted by the lovely Lydia blanket I shared earlier this week, this could be a perfect accompaniment. The boards (HERE) and extra pins (HERE) if you need them, are available to order now from Deramores who offer free shipping for this item within the UK and very reasonable flat rate international shipping if you're further afield. 

UPDATE: Wool Warehouse are also stocking the boards in the UK - find them here

The week that flew (flu) and a problem with socks

What a week. The flu hit us on Mother's Day (!) and while I escaped with just a lingering headache and cough, everyone else was completely floored - the adage 'the bigger they are, the harder they fall' seems to be true for my (gigantic) husband who is still poorly. So last week turned into a haze - of medicine, cold flannels and endless hand-washing! Aside from dog-walking, I was housebound (under children, so not even knitting) until Friday, when Little Miss was back at school and I left the males to fend for themselves to escape for an hour. I worked on my 'handbag socks' over tea with friends and enjoyed it so much that this was the only project I had at LM's ballet exam on Sunday, where I not only finished the first sock but cast on the second and knit over a quarter of it by the time she appeared with her trophy. 


Such was my level of exhaustion (in truth I was knitting in an automaton state), it wasn't until I got home that I realised the socks are completely different! I'd changed needles a few days ago to use my favourite ChiaoGoos, and must have inadvertently changed sizes too! I'm annoyed at myself, because I remember noticing that the newer knitting looked a bit bigger on the first sock, and put it down to a change in gauge (I started the first sock about a year ago), but the second sock is MUCH bigger than the first and will need to be ripped out. I'm trying not to think about it.

Sock pattern & yarn info can be found here 

Despite having two other big projects on the go at the moment, I'm very tempted by the Lydia blanket. Have you seen it? Designed by my friend Dedri Uys, the pattern is available for free on her blog - I got to fondle Dedri's sample at Unravel and it's just so pretty. Made from Scheepjes Cotton 8, the kit is available now from Deramores for £24.99 and is big enough to make a baby blanket, which I think would look really pretty draped over the back of a chair if, like me, you don't have a baby girl to crochet for. 

Lydia Blanket - Photo by Dedri Uys
I will try to resist long enough to get on top of the laundry mountain and general fumigation of the house! 

Five Ways to Improve 'Project Portability'

In 'The Pseudo-Science of Polywipamous Opportunities' I hypothesised there are three fundamental factors one should look at when seeking to increase 'opportunity' projects - i.e. "pick-up-and-put-down" knitting/crochet which you can take anywhere and work when you have even just  a few spare minutes. The third of these factors - portability - is quite easily manipulated and this is a list of five simple things that can make a big difference. Aside from the first (which relates to knitting needles) they apply equally to knitting and crochet.

Five ways to improve the portability of (knitting and crochet) projects - Crafts from the Cwtch blog
SQUINT PRINT: Clicking images/links will take you to related posts, Etsy or Amazon, inc. relevant affiliate URLs. Info on the sock above can be found here

1. Use circular needles, even when knitting flat. This makes a big difference to the amount of space required to transport your project. Plus you can't lose a needle between train seats (I have done this). Many people ask about my favourite needles - I have no hesitation in my reply - ChiaoGoo! (Image from Amazon, where they are available in an interchangeable set, or individually as either interchangeable tips or fixed circular needles.)
Chiaogoo interchangeable knitting needles
2. Streamline pattern information. If you need to refer to the pattern and it's in a magazine or a heavy book, either make your own simplified notes or a copy of the section you need (eg the chart). If it's a PDF pattern, save a copy to your phone, or take a screenshot/photo of the section of the pattern you'll need - or pop it on your Kindle (see this post) if you'll be carrying that anyway. Note: It's worth checking the copyright, but with most patterns it's absolutely fine to make a portable copy for your own reference. 

The Principles of Knitting (hardcover and ebook) on Crafts from the Cwtch blog

3. Only carry the yarn you'll need (based on the realistic amount of time you're likely to have). So if you're knitting a pair of socks, and are not likely to knit both before you come home, only take half of the yarn. (I either split the ball before starting the socks, or buy in 50g balls.) Same thing with a garment - only carry the piece(s) you're working on, not the whole project and all the yarn.

4. Have a 'ready-to-go' project bag. A fully prepared bag (located where you can easily pick it up on your way out) will really help to make the most of small crafting opportunities. I accidentally left my sock project on my desk when I went to Unravel. In the time we were there and my hands were idle, Joanne crocheted half a baby blanket!

If you've already checked off the earlier items in the list, the bag needn't be very big (my sock pouches are no bigger than cosmetic bags but contain everything necessary to knit on-the-go, when I pick them up!). Make sure you have all notions needed for your project - the bag linked above includes notion storage and sections for separating yarn (if it's a fiddly knitting project I also carry a mini crochet hook in case of dropped stitches, and a pencil to make notes on the pattern). Oh and it's a great idea to include a 'please return to' label or tag (like these) incase you lose your project!
5. Leave your phone in your pocket/bag! This may sound trite, and has little to do with the project itself, but can seriously make an enormous difference to the progress you can make on it. I spend a lot of time hanging around for the children (outside school, at dance classes etc) and most other people are looking at their phone - crushing candy or mindlessly scrolling through Facebook. This 'dead time' can be time spent much more productively if you're a knitter or can crochet, plus it's much more sociable as it's usually possible chat at the same time.

So those are just a few ideas to get you started. Please feel free to share your favourite tips in the comments.

To those awaiting the next post in the 'Brioche basics' knitting series, please bear with me. The family has been struck down with flu this week. 

Knitting and reading (lots of) novels

My mum was always knitting and reading while I was a child - she'd sit with one of my hair clips holding her pages open and would be able to knit anything this way. She made it look easy and perfectly normal. As an avid reader, learning to knit and read at the same time was nothing short of a revelation* for me and something I was determined to master - I am not nearly as good at is as Mum is, and still practicing while working on simple projects. So with my Kindle perched on my knee (or on the desk in front of me), I've been getting through quite a few novels recently.

Knitting and reading on Crafts from the Cwtch
READING: 'Furious' by TR Ragan, KNITTING: A design project using Scheepjes Mini Nooodle
I know that many of you also love a good read, so I'm sharing a few recent discoveries with you - three that I'd recommend and one that's getting a lot of publicity but which I didn't like as much. Amazon affiliate links are included below, all prices are correct at the time of writing. The books were provided as advance ebooks from NetGalley in return for honest feedback. (If you write a blog and like to read, it's definitely worth checking that out!) 

After loving 'Olive Kitteridge' I was really keen to receive a preview a copy of Elizabeth Strout's latest novel and was not at all disappointed, finishing it in a single sitting. Lucy Barton (of the title) comments "I like writers who try to tell you something truthful". On discussing an author she likes, Lucy also says "... her job as a writer of fiction was to report on the human condition, to tell us who we are and what we think and what we do". This is exactly what Strout does within the pages of this novel.

Strout is a master storyteller with a remarkable ability to describe simple everyday moments using plain uncomplicated language, while managing to perfectly capture so much of the complexity and nuance they contain. Her (quite everyday) tales feel so honest and authentic that it is entirely possible to forget they are, in fact, fictitious. This short (208 page) novel tells the story of a difficult 'mother-daughter' relationship. The protagonist - Lucy Barton - is a successful writer, looking back on a period of five days that took place in the mid-80s when she was hospitalised, and visited by her mother. The tale unfolds via a series of expertly crafted anecdotes - both Lucy's own recollections, and stories her mother shared during her visit. I feel that to say much more about the story or the characters would be to deprive you of discovery, but suffice to say I found it thoroughly engaging.

This is the expertly crafted story of indie film director Sophie Stark, as told by various people in her life. This device might easily have felt clumsy, but North handles the different narratives perfectly, leaving the reader with an interesting array of perspectives, and many unanswered questions. While I'd like to write pages of my own conjecture on Sophie's character and motivations I don't want to say any more which might spoil the journey for someone else. 

It is rare that a book lives up to the hype, but in my opinion this one is worthy of the rave reviews - although it would be better to read those after the book as some are very detailed. I really didn't want to put it down and have been recommending it to my friends.

Not normally one for spy novels, and with no prior knowledge of the author I wasn't sure what to expect, but am so glad this caught my eye as I was drawn in from the first sitting and looked for any excuse to read it! Although it is a novel about spies, set at the height of cold-war paranoia, very little really happens during that period. The majority of the characterisation and drama occurs via seamless flashbacks to the previous lives of the main characters - Lilly (Lili) a German-Jewish immigrant now nationalised and teaching at the local school in Muswell Hill, her husband Simon who works for the Admiralty (thanks to the old-boy network) and Giles, a spy and Simon's former "friend" from Cambridge. 

The 'exposure' of the title - the threat of exposure - is a theme which runs flawlessly throughout and which works on different levels. The real skill of the author is that she manages to maintain suspense and interest in a book which has very little action or plot by producing characters that are both memorable and sympathetic (even Giles, who probably shouldn't be). I really enjoyed this book and would certainly like to read more from the author. 

This has had a lot of publicity and was the first book I'd read by this author. Overall I felt it was well written - the premise was pretty good, gripping me from the start, and it continued at a good pace, thanks to the short chapters. So why only three stars? Well, the main character seemed a bit of a cliché and overall the resolution a little flat and predictable. It didn't really have much of a 'twist' and so I found myself rushing the end to get through it, rather than to discover who the killer was. (The section where the killer was described as 'the figure' also felt a little clumsy and unnecessary.) I would consider this a 'holiday' novel - relatively quick and readable, but not especially memorable. 

Have you read any of these? If so, what did you think of them? If you use Goodreads, and share my taste in books, you will find my profile here, feel free to add me as a friend so I can see what you're reading and reviewing. 

*A few people have asked about the mechanics of this when I've mentioned it so here are the details. I prefer to use a Kindle device - a quick tap of the screen will advance the text and there are no pages to get the yarn tangled with. My preferred device is a Kindle Voyage but I'll use a Kindle Fire when working on something more tricky - that has the option to listen and read at the same time as many of my books are from Kindle Unlimited and include audio. If not, many ebooks have text-to-speech, which is a bit like being read to by a satnav, but as you can follow along on the screen (and it turns over for you) it's a very handy way to multitask. 

The Pseudo-Science of Polywipamous Opportunities (or 'Why it's necessary to have multiple projects')

Some time ago I wrote about 'Polywipamy' - the state of having multiple projects on the go at once. It's been on my mind this week because my list of projects is growing. When I started knitting, it seemed ridiculous that anyone should have multiple 'active' projects at the same time but experience proved there are many different reasons to do so. Some are practical  - e.g. you're knitting a black cabled cardigan and can't see it well in poor light, so you need another 'evening' project, or maybe one of your projects is a gift and can only be worked on in secret. Other reasons are less practical but no less reasonable - e.g. you are knitting a plain grey sweater for a tall person and it's taking forever, you need a quick colourful crochet project to break up the monotony.

knitting, brioche knitting, wips

And so to my current situation. I am still working on my biggest design project to date - I'm halfway through the knitting of it, which can really only be done at home (because I'm lazy, see this post), but still have some opportunity to knit whilst out and about which is why I cast on Askews Me Shawl.

Last weekend the shawl came everywhere (in my new knitting bag) and I made great progress, but now it's quite big and the rows take longer. Several times I haven't felt confident about making it to the end of the row before needing to put it down, so I didn't start another... and progress has slowed considerably. It is for this reason that, in my parked car during a hailstorm, I also started the Malvern Cowl from Crochet Yeah! (review).

Even if it's not something you do yourself, I'm sure you can imagine how this could quickly escalate into lots of different works-in-progress. It's not just a time issue but a case of matching knitting opportunities to the right project and I mostly have the opportunity for portable things. This week I reasoned that a 'scientific' evaluation - before casting on - might result in more productive use of my time. I've narrowed it down to three key factors:

  • Simplicity relates to the amount of concentration required. The less concentration required, the higher the score. Rounds of garter stitch = 10, highly complex lace pattern worked over a long number of stitches with irregular repeats = 0
  • Ease (of starting or stopping mid-row / repeat). While there is some overlap with simplicity, this is really about the ability to pick-up-and-put-down a project. If the rows are short and the knitting easy to read, a fancy cable might be easier to put down than a round of silk laceweight knit stitches on slippery 2mm double pointed needles.  A score of 10 = a project you can pick up/put down at any point without any concern. 
  • Portability is straightforward, but worth remembering that it applies not just to the project itself but to anything necessary to work on it. A single-coloured hat or sock, knit without a pattern would get a high score, but a fair isle hat with lots of colours and requiring a multi-page pattern from an A4 hardcover book wouldn't score so well (actually, we might need another post on increasing this score).

Using this system, it's easy to see which should be the on-the-go projects and which should be left at home. The extremes might look like this:

Of course these elements might also vary throughout the project lifespan. Askews Me (which has increased in simplicity but isn't as easy to put down mid row or to carry around) might look something like this:
Having only come up with it this week, I'm still working the system out. Let me know if you think I've missed something crucial in my effort to simplify, but please don't remind me that in the time spent writing this I could have worked on my big project - I'm off to do that right now. I'll be back soon with more brioche, stay tuned! 

For the love of icords! ('Prym Knitting Mill' tips)

Do you love icords? I do!* But they take such a long time to knit, I don't make them as often as I'd like. The Prym Mini Knitting Mill seemed like the perfect solution - a semi-automated way to make lots of icord very quickly. Of course, I couldn't resist buying one to try it out. 


I had a few teething problems with my first attempts - the start was very messy and the end came unravelled before I could get it all off the hooks. Online reviews showed I wasn't the only one to find it tricky at first. After figuring it out, it's totally worth the effort. You get a neat icord in a tiny fraction of the time it would take to knit - you can whizz through a ball of yarn in a couple of minutes. So if you want to make an icord without hours of knitting, here are a few tips for using one of these gagdets without making the same mistakes:


Picture 1: Remember to thread the working yarn through the lower guide before threading it through the central tube and attaching the weight. The weight will apply an even tension and make for a neater icord, and is highly recommended. If you require a long icord, the weight will not be of benefit once it's on the floor - at this point I stand on the tail to maintain the tension, but you could re-tie it on the icord closer to the knitting mill.  Note that in this image I'm holding the working yarn simply to show the way it's threaded - it will need some slack when knitting, or the handle won't turn!

Pictures 2 and 3:  For the first round of knitting, you must turn the handle really really slowly and to manually slip the yarn over the second and fourth hook so that it is not picked up. This may seem counter-intuitive, but have faith! If it looks like my pictures, it's going to work

Picture 4: Once all four hooks have picked up the yarn, you can start to speed up. If possible, knit the whole icord in one sitting to maintain the tension.

To finish: It is necessary to 'knit' to the end of the yarn in order to get the yarn off all of the hooks (keep turning the handle until it falls through the central tube) and then to sew the stitches closed. For this reason, you may need to knit too much yarn and then undo it. Don't try to pull it off the last hook - trust me, this will not work!

It's worth noting that the Mini Mill I'm using is suitable for sock / 4 ply yarn. It can manage a smooth DK weight yarn with a high twist, but anything which is likely to snag on those tiny hooks probably will! Other sizes are available but they won't make an icord, they are for knitting tubular items like socks or hats (I'd like to try making legwarmers this way). If you want to make a chunky icord with a thick yarn I would recommend using a lucet - find the tutorial here.

* Previous posts include tutorials on making knitted icordicords with a lucet and adding an icord border onto a finished edge.  I used an icord to cover my headphones, and two of my published patterns include them - Whimsical Cowl (free blog pattern) and The Enormous Triangle Ponshawl (PDF pattern download).  

Amazon affiliate links are included in this post. This post is not affiliated with Prym in any way. 

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